Category Archives: A beautiful mess: art activities for kids

Spring break sunshine DIY watercolour paint

Spring break: DIY watercolour paints

It’s March break here in La Belle Province. I used the expression March break, and not spring break for 2 reasons:

  1. It’s really cold.
  2. Technically it’s not spring yet, and it’s really cold.

For those of you who like me do not feel like braving the cold, here’s a quick and fun activity you can do with the kids: make your own watercolour paints! Here’s what you’ll need to make your own paint:


  • 4 Tbsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp corn syrup
  • food colouring

The recipe I used came from this website: De tout et de rien: Activités pour le préscolaire.   You can visit the site to get the complete instructions for making the paint. Essentially you mix the first two ingredients until they stop fizzing, then add the next two. Divide into small containers and mix the food colouring in to get the colours you would like. The  site is  really worth a visit; it’s a treasure trove of craft ideas for little ones and is bilingual (french/english).

Anaïs and I had great fun making the paint and although you can use the paints right away, we preferred letting them dry. Also I think the recipe has too much corn syrup and gives it a bit of a plasticky feel, so next time we’ll try this recipe from Design Sponge. It has less corn syrup and uses vinegar instead of lemon juice.

An apple tree at night
An apple tree at night

This is a painting Tristan made when he was 4. I love this technique. You use wax crayons to draw your picture and paint over it with water colours.  Anaïs made her own version of a wax resist with the paints we made, and the effect is completely different. She used more wax than paint for her artwork.

Sunset lion watercolour
Sunset lion

I leave you with an ode to spring, may it be just around the corner. The sun was painted by Anaïs using the homemade watercolours.

Spring break sunshine DIY watercolour paint
Spring break sunshine

A Beautiful Mess

wildIn my experience, art with kids is a messy endeavour. Whether it’s beautiful or not is often a question of perspective. Are you the one cleaning up the mess? Ahh, then you understand. Enough said. My kids are older now, and their ability to clean up after themselves has also improved, albeit not proportionately.  I don’t mind a bit of a mess. If you look at my house, you may even think that I have a high tolerance for it. Perhaps that’s more a reflection of my housekeeping skills, but I digress. Let’s just say that I have a certain appreciation for art activities that are high in fun, but low in mess. Enter the Sharpie tie-dye activity. It’s been floating around  Pinterest and I thought I’d give it a try. Click here and here for detailed tutorials.

I did the activity with the 20 kids, aged 6 to 9, from my daughter’s class. When I’m not at home, you can generally find me volunteering at the school.  The art table in her class needed a bit of sprucing up, so I thought it would be great to make a Sharpie tie-dye tablecloth. In my head we were going to draw  pretty flowers. I was inspired by Alyssa Burke’s tutorial that you can find here. To my great dismay (read horror), the kids in the class picked a space theme for our art project. On the outside my demeanor was open and accepting. “That’s great!” I told the teacher as I smiled. You know that smile you practice for photos. You just whip it out and paste it on your face. That’s what I was doing. I may have held it there for an unnatural amount of time. I don’t know. On the inside I was panicking. Space theme? Yuck. We were going to do flowers. I had an image in my head of what I wanted it to look like and space wasn’t the way to get there! I constantly have to remind myself that art is about the process, not the result.  Deep down I know this. Deep down I really, truly believe this, but the perfectionist in me loves to disagree.

collageI had photocopied some circles so that the kids could practice their designs before we started on the fabric. I think that was helpful. It gave them an idea of the scale they would be drawing at, and also gave them a chance to practice drawing in a circle. As a rule, people tend to draw on square or rectangular surfaces, and it can be a little bit strange to draw in a circle. I asked them to draw the main outline in black. Once the alcohol is added, the black tends to retain the shape of the original drawing better than other colours, and makes it easier to see what they were trying to draw. If you’re doing purely abstract drawings then it doesn’t really matter. For me, the outline is a matter of preference. Once the outline was done, I  instructed them to add dots,  lines, and swirls of colour,  but to leave a lot of white spaces. By leaving a lot of blank spaces, you allow the  colours to spread out more when you add the rubbing alcohol. We used paintbrushes to apply the alcohol, but the kids needed to be reminded to use them  as a “dip gift-copyand drip” tool, and not as paintbrushes.

Before doing the project at school, I tried doing a few designs at home, to see if it worked. It was fun, easy and even a little addictive. I thought it would make a great gift and so I put together a little kit, with a pillowcase to decorate. I made the  pillowcase and if you’re hankering to make your own as well,  here’s an easy tutorial. For those of  you wanting to put together your own kit, you could always use a white t-shirt  instead of a pillowcase, but do you really want the kids wearing their art? The answer to that question just  depends on whether you’re about the process, or the results. For your convenience, I’ve added a photo of the “detailed instructions,” but I forgot to mention heat setting. It’s best to iron your creation before washing it to ensure that the colours don’t wash out. Even if these are permanent markers they do fade a little. Iron when the fabric is completely dry and move away from the rubbing alcohol! Have fun!